I saw a northern leopard frog in the Turtle Mountains recently. It has been a long time since I had last seen one. Maybe I am not frequenting the right areas. Actually, it is probably more complicated (and serious) than my rambling habits.
Although most of us probably were introduced to the leopard frog while playing around wetlands as children, most of us didn’t become intimately familiar with the species until our high school biology class. No doubt many among us had to go through the obligatory frog dissection. Much of what we learned is long forgotten, apart from perhaps a few associated pranks, or maybe a problem with pithing. Do you remember pithing your frog?
It is interesting to note that most biology texts of the 1950s and 1960s were all illustrated in black and white. However, some of the most widely used texts contained a series of colored acetate-like inserts illustrating the frog’s anatomy. So the frog, muscles, skeleton, and internal organs, were the only color in the book. One cannot help but wonder how many frogs gave their lives so we could better understand anatomy!
The leopard frog’s native range is much of Canada, the Great Lakes states and eastward, as well as Minnesota and Iowa westward to the Rockies, then southwestward to Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. What was once perhaps the most commonly observed frog in our region has now become uncommon and even rare in some areas. For example, they were common in the Great Lakes states until the 1970s but are now considered uncommon in many parts of the region.
I was rather surprised to learn that in 2009 a petition for federal protection of the species was proposed for 19 western states, including North and South Dakota, and Montana. It was subsequently determined that federal protection was not warranted, but the species has shown significant declines in some area including some extirpations over large portions of their former range.
We look for simple answers to complex problems, and the leopard frog population declines are no exception. Habitat loss is certainly a factor. So is disease, particularly a fungal infection of the skin. Water pollution is also suspect, particularly our widespread use of pesticides.
So be on the lookout for the lowly leopard frogs. They have entertained and educated many of us over the years. But they are having a tough time these days. Let’s hope we can correct that.